Matthew 28:16-20, Solemnity of the Ascension
When I was in graduate studies, I lived with an American Jesuit who was a former US Navy soldier. He had been deployed to missions in Syria and Afghanistan, and was even briefly missioned in Subic. While fixing some lunch one day, he asked, “So, Arnel, how’s the interfaith dialogue with the Muslims going back home?” I told him that as far as I knew, we were working very hard on it, especially Ateneo de Zamboanga. While I was telling him the little that I knew, he thoughtfully looked at me. He had this invisible question mark all over his face. Then he finally gently asked: “But how do we dialogue with people who don’t want to dialogue with us?” He must’ve been drawing from the dark well of his missions in Syria and Afghanistan.
The question left a deep impression on me. I’m sure that peaceful Muslims are open to dialogue with us, and have been, and actually are. As for the extremists, I’m not quite sure if they’re willing to listen and talk to us at all. How do you dialogue with violent people who say they do what they do in the name of God? How do you dialogue with zealots who distrust us, Christians, and distrust even their own peace-loving Muslim brethren? And how do we begin to trust them?
Fr. Dennis wrote me last week to ask that I speak to you about communion in the Blessed Trinity as being the source of our communion in this parish. Now, what that practically means is this: we’ve gotten along as a parish community for several years now, but this is not because of human efforts alone. We’ve come this far as a parish because of grace from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without that grace of unity, we won’t feel the least attraction to even be basically friendly with each other, let alone build a church. Kahit po magpawis tayo ng dugo para magkaisa bilang parokya, hindi po tayo magtatagumpay kung wala pong grasya ng pagkakaisa na sa Dios lamang po galing. The grace of unity comes only from God who is the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Now, don’t you think that God desires unity and communion not only in our parish but also in all parishes? Not just among Catholics but also among all Christians? And not just among Christians but also among all the God-fearing, whatever race or creed. So, in light of what’s happening in Marawi, I keep going back to the ex-Navy Jesuit’s question: how do we go about communion when the people we wish to engage in dialogue—they really don’t want to have anything to do with us, Christians, nor with anyone else who does not prescribe to what I call, socio-religious machismo. I cannot help noticing that where there’s a lot of useless bloodshed, there’s also a whole lot of worthless, inconsequential machismo going around.
And I’m talking not just about the bravado of Islamic extremists in the Marawi crisis. I’m also talking about the incredibly nauseating machismo that’s gone on in our government where our own men reject dialogue, and undercut constitutional protocol, and totally lack basic, decent savoir-faire. We’ve come to a point, both in religious extremism and civil governance, that whenever people are killed indiscriminately, male egos get polished in some bizarre, crazy way. So while government was busy polishing corporate ego via EJKs, what just happened? We got blindsided by the ego-trip of the extremists. Never mind that terrorism is the global problem about which we should’ve joined the international community in finding a solution. Now ISIS c/o Maute is upon us, and our macho geniuses have thought of the perfect solution: martial law—where dialogue and communion ain’t the music playin’. Martial law: the huge presidential ego booster today, as it was in 1972. Bloodshed for bloodshed, ego for ego: the way of machismo.
Have we reached an all-time low as a Christian country, dear sisters and brothers? Because in that case, we need not just the grace of communion but also the grace of the Ascension. We need to get down on our knees so we can rise above ourselves, ascend beyond all this. As it is, sisters and brothers, our governance of machismo is in the pits of self-praise and self-justification. And this, while the people who really need lifting up are being buried more and more deeply into the darkness of poverty and fear each passing day. God grant us the grace of communion and Ascension. We are desperate for the truer kind of communion. Not the communion rabble-roused by thugs in barongs or fatigues…or maybe even in sotanas, but the communion fostered by the one man who was man enough to die so that the poor may live and the imprisoned set free. That’s the kind of communion we need, the kind that God will raise from the dead and raise to himself.
I end with Paul’s prayer for us: “May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to the call of Christ, who was raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion… in this age and in the one to come.” Amen.
Image from the Internet